Texas legislature requires meningitis shot for university students

Reihaneh Hajibeigi

State legislation passed in June 2011 requires all university students in Texas to provide meningitis vaccination documents to their institution by Jan. 31 or face being barred from class registration.

Meningitis is an infection that affects the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, or meninges. Because of how close to the brain and spinal chord the disease can occur, it can be potentially life threatening.

Dr. Theresa Spalding, University Health Services medical director, said this preventive measure is for the protection of students.

“While anybody can get the disease, it’s more common in some ages, including people in their late teens and early twenties,” Spalding said. “Densely populated environments can also increase the risk of transmission.”

The meningococcal meningitis vaccine is offered by UHS for $190 for students with health insurance and $133 for students without health insurance.

University officials allow some students to be exempted from this requirement, including those with serious allergic reactions to the vaccine, students who have turned 30 by the first day of the semester and students who present any religious reason.

Spalding said there are risks to all vaccines, but there is no known risk of serious harm or death resulting from getting the meningococcal vaccine.

Many students do not see this requirement as a problem.

Freshman business major Keyana Hemyari said while she doesn’t care for needles, she would rather get a shot than deal with the possible consequences of contracting something as dangerous as meningitis.

“It’s really no issue,” Hemyari said. “I really hate shots but I’ve been told how dangerous meningitis can be, so I will gladly take the shot over getting the infection.”

Spalding said the chance for treating and surviving meningitis with no permanent damage is rare once it is already contracted.

Approximately 10 to 15 percent of people who get the meningococcal disease will die even if they get treated, and 11 to 19 percent of survivors will lose fingers, toes, arms or legs. People with meningitis are also at risk of permanent nervous system problems including seizures, diminished cognitive abilities and hearing loss.

Newly admitted students to UT are not required to submit documentation as part of their admission process, but non-compliance will prevent students from registering for classes, according to University Health Services website.

Because students living on campus were required to show proper documentation of their immunizations before moving in at the start of the term, they will not be affected by the Jan. 31 deadline.

Laurie Mackey, administrative services director with the Division of Housing and Food Services, said all students will need to comply with this state-mandated law.

“If they do not have their vaccine and are not allowed to attend school, they may no longer live on campus,” Mackey said.